Discussion – The Tempting of Thomas Carrick by Stephanie Laurens

I want to make it clear right from the start that I’m about to spend an ungodly amount of words discussing this book (not, precisely, reviewing it). There will be spoilers about the romance portion of the story. You’ve been warned.

This is a story of a woman who had a weakness — against all reason — for a particular author’s books. You could call it an illness. Even as each successive book repeated the tired pattern of the first few genuinely interesting and enjoyable, if not downright good, books, she could not stop buying them. She cringed at the overwrought everything, the incredibly odd sex scenes, the problematic plotting, the sheer amount of danger threatening this relatively small community. Seriously. This is the 22nd Cynster book, and if you add in the 14 other books set in a related world, that’s a fuck-ton of murderers, kidnappers, and traitors per capita. The people in that world should pretty much be walking around like this at all times:

Oh, yeah. I guess I should mention that I’m going to use an excessive amount of Psych gifs in this review. (Why, you ask? Because Psych is awesome, and because I had the most fun I’ve had in weeks troving for these gifs. Also, I want to watch Pysch again. You should, too. Besides, I’m going to write a lot of words about this book, and goofy animated clips will make it all more interesting, right?)

Anyway, where was I in my story? Right, so the woman read a whole pile of these books and then — significantly later than she should have (read: after she finished the 30th book) — she had an epiphany: they’re all the same. Her deep disappointment prompted her to write a post, which connected her with other recovering Stephanie Laurens addicts. She’d like to tell you that she held strong after that, stayed on the wagon, but she didn’t.

Read on to hear about The Tempting of Thomas Carrick, my 33rd Stephanie Laurens book.

Thomas Carrick is determined to make his own life in the bustling port city of Glasgow, far from the demands of the Carrick clan, eventually with an appropriate wife on his arm. But disturbing events on his family’s estate force Thomas to return to the Scottish countryside—where he is forced to ask for help from the last woman he wants to face. Thomas has never forgotten Lucilla Cynster and the connection that seethes between them, but to marry Lucilla would mean embracing a life he’s adamant is not for him.

Strong-willed and passionate, Lucilla knows Thomas is hers—her fated lover, husband, protector, mate. He is the only man for her, just as she is his one true love. How can he ignore a bond stronger than reason and choose a different path? She’s determined to fight for their future, and while she cannot command him, she has enticements of her own to wield when it comes to tempting Thomas Carrick.

Let me start out by saying — if you’re going to read this book — you should consider reading the novella that sets it up, By Winter’s Light(If you’re a fan of strange book blurbs, I recommend you follow that link and check it out. The blurb is a blow-by-blow.) I didn’t read the novella, and I was very confused by these characters’ strange antics and the lack of a solid meet-cute. I mean, for reals, you spend the first 50 pages following Thomas around his day-to-day life. The book kind of assumes that you know that these two characters are destined to be together. It kind of assumes that you know why Thomas is reluctant to agree to his destiny. It assumes that you know what it means for Lucilla to be the “Lady in Waiting of the Vale.” (I’ll tell you, because it’ll make the rest of this discussion a trifle less strange: she’s a priestess to an ancient deity. So destiny means something more to her than to your average gal.) I didn’t know many of those things. I just thought everybody was cray cray.

I guess that’s my bottom line. This book is incredibly odd. When Thomas finally meets up with Lucilla (after, apparently, avoiding her for 2 years), Thomas internalizes for a few pages, and finally is like, “Oh, hi, I need your help, let’s go.” And Lucilla’s like, “Great. Let’s. ……… wait a minute. What’d you do to my brother?” “Oh, it’s no biggie,” says Thomas. “I just knocked him unconscious because I don’t have time to explain the situation to him.” And Lucilla replies, “LOL, k. Lemme write him a note and tuck it into his pocket. You’re right. It’s NBD.” And she leaves Marcus on the ground.

For the first half of the book, Thomas and Lucilla attempt to solve the mystery of who poisoned the Carrick clan healer and the entire Bradshaw family, who pushed the healer’s sister Faith down the stairs of the “disused wing” of Carrick Manor, who let an adder into the still room, who broke into Lucilla’s room and threatened to smother her with a pillow, and — finally — who possessed the prescience and amazing ability to aim a giant stone gargoyle down a several-stories’ fall to nearly kill Thomas and Lucilla, strolling below. Along the way, Thomas and Lucilla kiss on occasion (because this is a romance novel).

The thing is, though, that Thomas and Lucilla’s story isn’t very romantic. That’s partly because so much of the story line for the first half of the book remains fixed on the whodunnit plot, and it’s partly because nearly all of the characterization establishing Thomas and Lucilla, their attraction to one another, their mutual “destiny,” and (I assume) the conflict that’s been keeping them apart (Thomas’s wanting to live his own life and make his own choices) is missing from this book, presumably detailed in the prequel novella. Soooo that’s a problem. But, honestly, I think the bigger problem is that Lucilla and Thomas bring little to the romance party other than instalust, and y’all know how I feel about that. (If you don’t, you’re either new here or you’ve got terrible reading comprehension skills. Fingers crossed for the former.) As much as I’m inclined to enjoy a story wherein the heroine is the instigator of all things physical, Lucilla’s aggressive pursuit of Thomas actually creeped me out a little. He mentions a few times that he’s just not that into her, that — yeah — he’d like to bone her, but she’s just not his type for a long-term deal, and her response is “lol. I’ll wear him down eventually. He can’t fight destiny.”

So, yeah. Right after the dude with a pillow sort of kind of threatens to kill Lucilla, she’s like, “hey man, I know we just talked like one page ago about how you’re looking to marry some nice woman down in Glasgow, so you can continue to run your business, but… let’s fuck.” And he’s like, “yeah, cool, we can have a fling. Sure. Why not? But no commitment, k?” On the one hand, I think it’s worthwhile to point out that Stephanie Laurens has done something completely new here, but it’s not exactly a good new thing.

I suspect the best way to explain what I mean is to tell you a little bit about Lucilla’s parents’ story (my favorite of all the Cynster books), Scandal’s Bride. Some 30 years before the events of this book, Catriona, the Lady of the Vale, meets Richard Cynster and knows (because she’s a freaky priestess lady) that he’s destined to be the father of her children. So she drugs him (I’m not kidding) with a mix of downers and uppers, if ya know what I mean, and has her way with him. (Right about now you should be shaking your head and wondering how in the fuck I could call a book that glorifies rape “my favorite.” I know. There are some deeply problematic elements to this book (to every Cynster book, truth be told), but there’s not a power imbalance between these characters, and the narrative takes pains to point out just how wrong Catriona’s actions are. The story ends up working (for me) because Richard, despite having his choice taken away from him initially, pushes through and demands his own agency. Yes, the book is pretty ridiculous and melodramatic (lots and lots of external conflict driving the characters’ internal journeys: Richard is poisoned, a barn catches fire close to the house, etc.), but it’s interesting.)

ANYWAY. Cynster fans (even we reluctant ones) will naturally contrast The Tempting of Thomas Carrick with its forebear. We’ll look at Thomas’s relative lack of agency and be concerned. We’ll look at his being seemingly content with a booty call and be concerned. We’ll look at Lucilla’s inability or unwillingness to use her words and be concerned. And we’ll spend so much time being concerned that we end up missing out on any sweeping romance (assuming any is there). That’s unfortunate.

Anyway, soon after the falling gargoyle incident, Thomas and Lucilla up and leave Carrick Manor (because someone is clearly trying to kill them, among other, slightly less interesting, reasons) and decamp to the Vale (Lucilla’s digs), and readers are left with a lot of frankly boring sex scenes (although I did cheer when “ecstasy painted a sunburst on the inside of his lids,” because that is awesome.) and multiple scenes detailing Thomas’s bucolic bliss. I mean, it is kind of nice seeing that Thomas genuinely enjoys his time in the Vale — makes it less creepy that he’s destined to live there as Lucilla’s consort whether he likes it or not — but I couldn’t figure out how the story could possibly be headed anywhere half as interesting as figuring out whodunnit. Meanwhile, the whodunnit plot completely fizzles out and is not brought up again until the very end of the book. In fact, the whodunnit plot may (or may not, I mean… who knows?) get solved in the next book.

Yeah. Right?!

I was super disappointed when the whodunnit plot was abandoned, because it was interesting, you guys (even though it was kind of obvious whodunnit and even though it took the characters on several jaunts through the “disused wing” and involved a lot of conversation about the “disused wing.”).

Then Thomas realizes — with 100 pages still left in the book, I might add — that Lucilla has been like, “Ima show him what life by my side will be like. It will be awesome. *SUNBURST*” And Thomas gets super pissed (because he rightfully feels manipulated and betrayed) and leaves, after some shouting. Let me repeat that crucial phrase: there are still 100 pages left in the book at that point. I wondered if I’d get to read another 50 pages of Thomas wandering around Glasgow, doing his business, going to parties, before he suddenly realizes that he’s the hero of a romance novel and had better suck it up and get back to his lady-love. Actually, it was about 10 pages of heartbroken Lucilla internal monologue, 15 pages of Thomas wandering around Glasgow in mostly-internal monologue, 20 pages of Thomas making amends first to Lucilla’s family members (WTF) then to her, and finally 50ish pages of setting up the next book.

Yeah. I haven’t even gotten to the way the book is structured (The POV shifts frequently, like every few paragraphs, for no reason — other than lazy writing, of course — and Lucilla is given significantly less page time than Thomas and is significantly less well-developed; both things bothered me to no end.) and the inconsistencies in Lucilla’s character (briefly: she’s the acting-Lady, but she doesn’t seem to do any of the things Catriona did. Her priestess duties seem tacked on and not really part of her actual character.). (Also, I was promised enticements (in the blurb). Where the hell were the enticements? As far as I could tell, the only enticements Lucilla wielded to tempt Thomas were poontang and destiny.) But, anyway, this post is plenty long enough. Besides, you get the idea. The Tempting of Thomas Carrick is not only odd but also just straight-up bad. It’s worse than the Black Cobra intrigue-infested travelogues. And maybe the reason I feel such keen disappointment is that my hopes were so high: after all, I still love Scandal’s Bride, even after everything. I wanted so much to love this book, too, but I can’t.

Marcus’s book is projected to be released in May, and I know I shouldn’t read it…

Hey, don’t judge me. That whodunnit plot really was interesting. And I have an illness!

Feel free to discuss this book with me in the comments or on Twitter, even if you liked it, and you’re thinking to yourself, “why is this horrible person making fun of something I love? And why did I just read 2,000 words about it?!” And if, like me, you’re recovering (or attempting recover, or saying “eh, fuck it” like I clearly am) from an addiction to these books, let’s talk about ’em! What’s your favorite? Do you agree with me that Scandal’s Bride is crazysauce yet wonderful?

The Tempting of Thomas Carrick was released on February 24, 2015 by MIRA (a Harlequin imprint). For more information about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an ARC of this book from Rock Star PR for review consideration. Somewhat obviously my opinion is my own.*

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Review – A Promise of More by Bronwen Evans

HI. It’s been a while, I know. I’ve been reading, but I have not had very much time lately for writing. I am hoping that over the next few weeks I can catch up a bit on my backlog of reviews. We’ll see how that goes.

I read A Promise of More in early April, and…well, I should let this tweet speak for me.

When Beatrice Hennessey sets out to confront Lord Coldhurst, the notorious rogue who killed her brother in a duel, her intent is to save her family from destitution. She’s determined to blackmail the man into a loveless marriage. She’ll make the wealthy Lord Coldhurst pay for the rest of his life. But while greeting his ship, Beatrice takes a tumble into the Thames—only to be fished out by a pair of strong masculine arms that tempt her to stay locked in their heated embrace forever. That is, until she realizes those arms belong to Sebastian Hawkestone, Lord Coldhurst himself.
 
The little drowned mermaid has an interesting proposition indeed; one that Sebastian is surprised to find quite agreeable. Although he’s had women more beautiful, she is pleasing to the eye, and besides, it’s time he fathered an heir. Beatrice promises to be the ideal wife; a woman who hates him with an all-consuming passion is far too sensible to expect romance. However, it isn’t long before Sebastian’s plan for a marriage of convenience unravels, and he’s caught up in the exhilarating undertow of seduction.

You may remember that I read (and was ambivalent about) the first book in this series, A Kiss of LiesI had fairly high expectations for A Promise of More based on the many things I enjoyed about the first book. I expected well-wrought characters, good writing, an interesting, fast-moving plot, and a compelling romance. I hoped that it wouldn’t contain any distressing social missteps. Maybe it’s my fault for expecting so much, but I was utterly confounded by A Promise of More. The characters made no sense, the writing was frequently weak, the plot was kinda crazy, and the romance was… well… not compelling.

In fact, I felt like I was reading my 32nd Stephanie Laurens book, if Laurens had fired all her editors and lost her mind a little bit.

Sebastian reminded me of the hero of All About PassionBoth heroes are convinced that love and passion are the source of all evil in a relationship and seek to marry women for whom they feel no passion; both heroes are thwarted in their goal and end up — through pure male stupidity — married to women for whom their loins BURN (but not in an STI way, thank goodness); both heroes spend an uncomfortable amount of time trying to deny the passion and love they feel, trying to convince the heroines that they will never, ever love them. Also, both heroes are total douche ponies.

Beatrice reminded me a little bit of all of Laurens’ heroines, because her entire character arc was focused — once she realized that Sebastian wasn’t a murderer — on getting Sebastian to say the magic words, “I love you.” I’m not exaggerating.

A Promise of More also has an intrigue plot (just like every Laurens book). The thing is, when the conflict between the characters is as lame as one character saying, “I will never love you, because I am opposed to love!” and the other character saying, “I am going to get you to admit that you love me, because… reasons!” you really need a solid intrigue plot to move things along and keep people reading. This book had a mystery — who killed Doogie?! — and an obvious and rapetastic villain who would have been improved by a sinister mustache. There is also an irritating she-villain. (Further, the intrigue plot is a bit problematic. It relies heavily on violence and the threat of violence against the heroine, and there is an actual ripped bodice.)

I might not have noticed the parallels between this book and Laurens’ canon — strangely enough — if the first sex scene in A Promise of More had not included a reference to flying and stars bursting and firestorms of desire. Laurens is famous for writing OTT sex scenes that are incredibly descriptive and employ strange, celestial references. Evans seems to be following in those footsteps. After that first star burst, the other similarities just stuck out to me.

I read an ARC, so it’s possible that some of the weird stuff in the book got cleaned up in a last-minute bit of editing. (I hope so.) There are plenty of conversations wherein the characters repeat themselves, and there was one hilarious moment where the heroine — who had been hanging onto the bed during some naked gymnastics — was suddenly clinging to the “bed head.” These things are minor and easily overlooked when the rest of the book is interesting; but when the rest of the book reminds you of a Stephanie Laurens book, it’s hard not to notice and be irritated by editing issues.

So where does this leave me? Except for one thing, I enjoyed the first book in the series, and I am inclined to hope that this book’s issues are a fluke. I’m not sure what it means about me that I could spend an entire post detailing all the things I disliked about a book and then conclude that I’ll happily pony up to read the next one… but it’s true.

A Promise of More was released on April 15, 2014 as an e-book by Loveswept. If you’re curious about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads. To learn more about Bronwen Evans, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley for review consideration from the publisher via NetGalley.*

My best and worst reads in 2013

I read a lot of books this year (172 as of my writing this), and I thought it might be fun to identify the outliers at both ends of the spectrum.

The Best:

1.  The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers – There is so much life in this novella, complete with joy and pain, disappointment and transcendence. It is, without doubt, the best book I read all year. (*)

2.  Big Boy by Ruthie Knox – Hands down my favorite Ruthie Knox book (which is really saying something, guys), Big Boy is remarkably atypical for the genre.  It features characters whose sole, necessary, act of selfishness in lives governed by sacrifice is the small amount of time they take from each other.  And when they shift to giving instead of taking? It’s magic. (<3)

3.  Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand – Infertility, grief, and a broken marriage, these are the subjects of this beautifully moving novella that explores the jagged edges of two people, long in love, who were blown apart by grief but who find a way back.   (<3)

4.  A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant – I don’t know that I have ever been more surprised by a romance novel than I was by Cecilia Grant’s debut.  Thematically, the novel discusses trust, intimacy, and the slow development of love with humor so sly it’s easy to miss.  But it’s most remarkable (I think) for its complete lack of instalust and magical chemistry.  If you haven’t read this book, you really should. (<3)

5.  About Last Night by Ruthie Knox – I read this book in one sitting and, when I was done, I started it again immediately, because I just wasn’t ready to let it go. Through this book, Knox taught me how to be a better reader (and, by extension, a better woman, perhaps), to sit and savor the moments of truth that can be found in a book, to rediscover and embrace the reason I read.  (<3)

6 and 7.  The Heiress Effect and The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan – My favorite thing about Courtney MIlan’s writing is that when you start reading her books, her characters always seem so damn mysterious, and that mystery never seems like a clever device to snag reader interest.  It’s just that her characters are so full, possess such depth, that it takes a few hundred pages to get to know them.  And then you do, and your heart just breaks, because their issues are real.  You’ve met women like Jane, and you know your history — and your current affairs — so you know her plight (and her sister’s) is not unusual.  You know that all the pieces of Violet’s character really existed, lived out by real women throughout the ages.  And it hurts so much to know it, so deeply, so viscerally, a punch.  But you also know men like Oliver and Sebastian.  And even though it hurts so much to read and experience all that reality, at the end you are gifted a triumph, and it gives you the strength to keep putting your back into it, to keep living your life. (<3)

8.  The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz – By the time I reached the end of The Mistress, I was crying a little, laughing a lot, pumping my fist in the air, feeling intellectually alive and overwhelmed by joy.  And I felt rather like I did after I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time, like this story that had always existed behind a veil had been revealed, and I’d had the good fortune to witness that unveiling.   (*)

9.  Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl – This book is funny, but it isn’t lighthearted.  It’s like that moment when the seas of life have buffeted you about so much that you end up getting a mouthful of sea water, and you try to spit it out with some dignity, but it just comes out as warm, extra salty drool, and suddenly it’s fucking hilarious that — on top of everything else — you’ve just drooled, so instead of worrying about drowning, you just laugh.  Anyway, it’s kind of a coming of age story for people who waited until their thirties to figure themselves out, but it doesn’t have any of that angst because it just doesn’t have time for bullshit. (*)

10.  To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer – This one made the list because it is probably the most romantic story I read all year.  I mean, come on: Eden and Levi fall in love writing letters to each other about Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.  It was a foregone conclusion that I would love this story, that it would stick with me all year. (<3)

 The Worst

Well, there are the obvious contenders for worst books read all year.  there’s even an obvious winner.  But there were also a slew of books that just disappointed me (or made me disappointed in myself).  Chief among these is:

Most disappointing book of 2013: And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens (<3 :~(…).  I cannot believe that I bought this, my 31st Laurens book.  I am deeply disappointed in myself.  On the other hand, it seems to have finally helped me break the cycle of addiction.  The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, the next book in the series, has been out for six months, and I’ve had absolutely no desire to purchase it.

So there you have it.  Many of these books were published in 2013 but not all of them.  Some of these books were received as e-ARCs from publishers (marked with *) and some were purchased by me (marked with <3).

What are the best and worst books you read this year?

 

Confessions of a self-aware addict – The story of 29 books

I’ve heard that the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem, so here goes.  Oh Internet, I have a deep and shameful secret to confess.  I am hopelessly addicted to Stephanie Laurens books.  It started with this one, believe it or not.

I bought it on a whim, and it drew me in with its interesting vocabulary (honestly, susurrate, cynosurelimned?) and fabulous old lady characters.  Then I bought and read all of these books, because I am, clearly, an idiot.

Oh. My. God.  It’s horrifying to see all those covers laid out like that…

And do you know what?  They are all pretty much the same book, just with different physical descriptions (and, in the fine strokes, different character descriptions, but the broad strokes are all the same) and, for the most part, a different type of intrigue or danger that the characters face together while deciding whether or not to boink and whether or not to marry (spoiler alert: the answer is always yes.).  In fact, perhaps the only one truly worth reading is the first one: Devil’s Bride, because it (alone) doesn’t rely on poor communication as a plot and conflict device.

These books contain (1) an alpha male who is handsome, rich, compelling, good in the sack (and so experienced–and it’s uncomfortable that the dude’s experience gets mentioned so often–that you have to wonder how all these alpha males manged to avoid social diseases), and feeling a bit jaded and restless with his life–a.k.a. primed for matrimony; (2) a strong female who has some past experience or quirky character trait that creates a desire (a) never to marry without a solid belief that she is entering a love match, (b) the idea that this solid belief can be obtained only by the gentleman saying, “I love you,” and (c) the disinclination ever to express this desire in words that the poor hero could ever understand; (3) some sort of life-threatening intrigue or danger that both throws the hero and heroine together often enough for them to boink occasionally and, towards the end of the story, places the heroine’s life in danger so that the intelligence-challenged hero can realize, finally, that he loves her–and can tell her so in those words–so that she can finally agree to marry him.  These books also contain multiple episodes of the same bizarre sex scene, in which the characters’ boinking creates (what I hope is) a metaphorical aurora borealis of afterglow.

I know, right?!  Why did I read 28 versions of the same story?  Clearly, I have an illness.

And, actually, I read 29.

I know! It’s painful.  Anyway, The Lady Risks All was released last fall, and I really tried to hold out, but I failed.  I held out all of two weeks before I bought the book, read it, and then felt all the awful feels.  Was it the same plot all over again?  Yep.  Was it pretty much the same characters all over again?  Yep, for the most part.  Did the sex scenes involve sunbursts and starbeams and being both wracked and wrecked while tossed on the far shore the island people go to, if Laurens is to be believed, after they’ve had an orgasm and are floating in the sea of sated bliss?  Yes, yes it did.

Anyway, there’s a new Laurens book out now, and I need your help, friends, in resisting its insidious call.  Do any of you have this illness, too (towards different authors, perhaps)?  Do you find yourself buying and reading these books and then wondering, why did I do that?! I knew it would be bad!  Is there a cure?

Last week in reading…

It was another week of romance novels, but I’m sure you’re used to that by now.

Cover image, A Question of Trust by Angeline Fortin

Everyone who reads and reviews this book seems to say the same thing: it would have been a fantastic book if only Fortin had hired an editor.  I’ve got to say, I pretty much agree with the peanut gallery, but I also could have done with a lot less random description of clothing.  If I had followed through on my 10-year-old-girl goals to become a world-class fashionista (those who know me know how I far I fell short of that goal throughout my life…), maybe I would care to read details about pin-tucking and embroidery and overskirts and underskirts.  But I just don’t give two hoots or a holler about any of that.  It’s nice to know that the characters in books have clothes on, but don’t you kind of assume that, as a reader?  There were some cases where the seemingly endless clothing descriptions made a wee bit of sense, when the clothing choices moved along the character development, but the rest of the time, I just skipped ahead.

Now here’s something interesting: it ain’t often that you have a romance novel deal with a weighty topic like spousal abuse and not be lame about it.  A lot of romance authors imbue their characters with the mannerisms of folks who have been badly abused but then when it comes time for them to give an accounting of the actual abuse the character received (to explain all that funky behavior), it’s so mild that their behavior doesn’t make any sense.  Sometimes people treat each other very badly, and I was happy to come across a book that wasn’t afraid to delve into all of that.  Well done, Fortin.  But, next time, hire a damn editor, because it’s really annoying to read a book that’s got stupid errors – dropped words, typos, mistaken words (i.e. interesting rather than interested…), etc.

Cover image, The Leopard Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt

I’ve sort of fallen in love with Elizabeth Hoyt.  This woman writes beautiful books that seamlessly blend interesting stories about complicated characters with these lovely little fairy tales.  I wrote about The Raven Prince a few weeks ago, which is the first book in the Prince series, followed by The Leopard Prince and then The Serpent Prince.  All three books in that series are excellent, and I’m so glad I read them.  Seriously, if you can stand to read romance novels and are tolerant of quite steamy sex sequences, you should really read these books.  The books are beautifully constructed with just enough plot movement not to be boring and with all the character development that a girl like me could possibly want.  Trust me: that’s a lot of character development!  I’m a sucker for fairy tales, so my favorite part of each of the Prince books was the fairy tale and how perfectly it dovetailed the main story line/character line.

In the romance genre, it’s fairly typical to start each chapter with some sort of excerpt, whether from an established work of literature, some fictional work that is mentioned within the book, or bits of letters penned by one or more of the characters of the book.  I’m not quite sure why it’s so popular in romance fiction, but there’s some sort of chapter introduction in about 75% of the romance novels I’ve read in the past five years.  Clearly, it’s become part of the genre.  Most of the time, I don’t bother reading the little introductions, because they tend to take away from the pacing of the story and often fail to add anything substantive to it.  However, when Hoyt writes these little chapter introductions, they provide another layer of meaning for the characters.  How brilliant for Hoyt to take a stupid quirk of the genre and make it beautiful.

Cover image, The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

I have one more thought about the Prince series, and then I’ll be done.  Series books are usually really annoying.  Often, when an author writes a series, she’s actually just rewriting the first book with different character names.  As an example, I point to Stephanie Laurens, who wrote the wildly successful Cynster series.  Now, I’m a sucker for romance novels, so I’ve read every single one of those books (sucker indeed).  They’re all exactly the same.  The male hero character is jaded and starting to feel a certain restlessness with his life.  Enter the heroine, whom the male character immediately fixes upon as an object of his possession.  The hero decides that they will marry, but the heroine refuses to consent until she can be certain that he loves her.  He is reticent to give such an assurance, and so they have a conflict.  Since that conflict alone would make for horribly boring books, Laurens throws each of her hero/heroine pairs into some sort of mortal peril (a murderer on the loose, etc.) that, in its resolution, forces the hero character to examine and communicate his feelings, after which recitation the heroine relents, and they marry, happily ever after.  Laurens has written 20+ versions of the same book, and idiots like me keep flocking up to purchase them at $7.99 a pop.  Did I mention I’m a sucker?

Hoyt writes series books with marginally connected characters, but each book is distinct.  She doesn’t seem to possess a pattern card for ideal male or female behavior.  Rather, her characters receive individual attention and a great deal of thought.  As a reader, I don’t have to feel like an utter moron for spending another $8 for the dubious pleasure of reading a story I’ve already read.  Instead, I can spend $4 or $6 on a lovely story that makes me happy and makes me think.  I just don’t have anything bad to say about any of these books by Elizabeth Hoyt, and that’s a rare thing!

Cover image, Listening Hearts by Suzanne G. Farnham, Joseph P. Gill, R. Taylor McLean & Susan M. Ward

In addition to all those romance novels, I’m also reading Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community.  I’m starting the process of writing a profile document for my church, and a friend of mine suggested that I read this book to help get me in the right frame of mind for discernment.  Having gone to Azusa Pacific University, I’m a bit leery of religious writing, but I’m really enjoying this book.  Not everything that has to do with religion is cheesy and fake.  Anyway, I’m just on the first chapter, but it deserves a mention in my week of reading recap.

These books are all last week’s reading.  I just got back from an eight-day road trip from southern California to southern Idaho, and I didn’t get any writing done for the blog while I was gone.  Stay tuned for some upcoming posts about the road trip, this week’s reading, and a relatively recent wine tasting trip.

What is analysis anyway?

Right now, I am reading Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolis, The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae by Stephanie Laurens, and The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal.  As I have time, I’ll post about these books and any others I pick up.  I am not certain that I will finish Charterhouse.  120 pages in, I still hate all the characters, and I don’t really care what happens to them.  I am reading Elizabeth and Hazel for a book club at work, and I am really enjoying it.  Glencrae is pure fun–not much to analyze about it, per se, but self-analysis is possible regardless of the quality of the stimulus–but fluffy books of its ilk give me blessed relief from my ever-churning thoughts.

There are a lot of very good book review blogs out there, but reviews aren’t precisely what I’m going for with this blog.  My starting perspective is that everything that we experience in our lives changes us in some often ineffable way so that, every day we have the opportunity to get to know ourselves, to incorporate these changes and figure out where they leave us.  I have this horror of waking up one morning, looking in the mirror, and seeing a stranger.  It is so easy to allow habit and mental laziness to work their magic on our lives, to slip into mental somnolence until we no longer know our own minds.  It is easy to hide things from ourselves, to fool ourselves into believing that we are better than we are.  I am absolutely terrified by the very real possibility that I could, one day, be a stranger to myself.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m quite neurotic!

Analysis, then, is my means of making sure that I never get away from myself.  And, since I spend an awful lot of time reading every day, a good deal of my analysis is directed at what I’m reading: what I think about it, how it changes or challenges my beliefs, how it might be changing me.  So this isn’t really a review blog, although I will doubtless give my opinion of what I’m reading.  What I am interested in is having a record of my thoughts and, if possible, entering into a dialogue with others about those thoughts so that I can move forward with the ones that make sense and have a certain universal (ish) applicability and reject those thoughts that don’t.

Abrupt subject change: I made a wonderful and dangerous discovery a few months ago at work: there is an automatic espresso machine on campus that doles out free custom-made cappuccinos (or lattes or americanos) all day long.  In addition to the three cups of brewed coffee that I had this morning, I have had three of those lovely cappuccinos, the last of them with an added shot.  It is wonderful to have no real limit on the amount of caffeine I consume, now that I am no longer pregnant or nursing.